Coronavirus: Highgate Long Covid sufferer still struggling 7 months after ‘virus turned my life upset down’

Lizzie Nicholls, 44, has suffered symptoms including chronic fatigue for months since she contracted Covid-19. Picture...

Lizzie Nicholls, 44, has suffered symptoms including chronic fatigue for months since she contracted Covid-19. Picture: Lizzie Nicholls - Credit: Archant

In the first of a two part series, Harry Taylor speaks to Long Covid sufferer Lizzie Nicholls on the virus’ impact seven months on, and why the long-term effects need more publicity

Lizzie Nicholls is a Highgate-based personal trainer. Picture: Lizzie Nicholls

Lizzie Nicholls is a Highgate-based personal trainer. Picture: Lizzie Nicholls - Credit: Archant

A personal trainer has said Long Covid has cost her friends, damaged her livelihood and made her worry about catching the virus again, as she urges others to take precautions as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Lizzie Nicholls said the virus has turned her life “upside down” since getting symptoms in March. Months later a full recovery doesn’t seem any closer for the Highgate woman. She said her struggle with the virus began a week into lockdown.

“I had a faint cough then, come April 9, my breathing went on me one night,” she said. “My chest got really tight and I couldn’t take deep breaths.”

Lizzie rang the NHS out-of-hours number 111, where she was told that unless she was struggling to form sentences, she had to stay at home rather than go to hospital.

“The next two weeks were pretty horrific,” she continued. “The breathing problems were quite bad, it felt like my throat was closing up. My doctor sent me for a chest X-ray and ECG [heart] scan and it all came back fine.”

Yet the 44-year-old was still struggling to breathe and was suffering with a collapse in her energy levels.

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When she struggled to recover, she came across the idea of “long Covid”, people who, like her, were still dealing with its impact months on.

It was a far cry from life before the pandemic, where Lizzie was a fitness instructor for a decade. She would exercise five times a week herself, while running three to four exercise classes a day as part of her job.

Now she is limited to 20 minute low-intensity workouts twice a week and she is rebuilding her personal training business. Long gone are the days when she would compete in triathlons.

“I’ll be ill for two days after any big exertion,” she explained. “I just feel really weak and fatigued.”

This, in turn, has cost her work, meaning her parents in Hertfordshire have had to support her.

“It’s massively affected my business. I used to train people nearby every day, and I have now lost three clients because I was too ill to go to the sessions at the time.”

Lizzie is still having breathing problems and worries that her low energy levels are a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome, of which other long-Covid sufferers have complained.

It has affected more than the now-Highgate resident’s physical health. Her usual stress release, running, is no longer possible, so much so that she gets jealous when she sees people jogging near her home.

“My whole life has been turned upside down. You wonder: ‘Am I even going to get better or is this it now?’

“I am trying to think positively, but it is hard after seven months,” she said.

Lizzie said she has lost friends as a result of her illness and believes it has been easier for them to “cut [her] out” than to keep telling them that she is ill and doesn’t have the energy to go out. She’s only been to a restaurant once since initial lockdown restrictions were lifted, but doesn’t plan on going again after seeing waiting staff not wearing masks.

“People don’t get it. They feel that you are playing it up,” she said. “They think ‘it’s easy to cut [you] out’, because I can’t keep saying I am unwell. Do they think that I am making it up? It has gone down the toilet. I don’t want to go out to bars and restaurants and you don’t have the energy to socialise.”

With a second wave in London and the UK rising, Lizzie wants her story to be a warning to others who might not be taking all the precautions. She told the Ham&High that she supports another lockdown to “nip [the virus] in the bud”.

“It has been horrific for me. I was that person and it has turned my life upside down. If I could go back in time I would be doing everything the government is saying now,” she said.

“It is not just those in hospital [it has affected] and those who people who have died. It is other people, fit people. It can crush you and it can totally ruin your life. It stops you working and having a social life and puts your life on hold. Don’t think you can get away with it.”